Thursday, April 30, 2009

Top 10 PS1 games (Guest Blogger)

So I am ashamed to admit that I only played 3 or 4 games on the PS1. Mostly because my sister owned the system at home and I was too cheap to buy games in college. But I didn't want to leave the system out because I REALLY enjoyed the games I did play. So here to guest blog for me is my sister Maureen. I approve of her rankings, and I will add my own thoughts in parentheses at the end of each summary.

1. Final Fantasy VII

Anyone who doesn't think this game deserves first place probably didn't play it when it first came out and has since been jaded by the hype. It was the first game I ever played with cinemagraphic cut scenes, which was like, unheard of at the time, and also incredibly awesome. This is all without even taking into consideration the mind blowing plot (it blew my mind at least three times, for the record), the memorable characters and music, and the best magic/equipment system of all time: materia. If you didn't like materia, you don't have a soul. Period. (For me, this is the game that made Video Games an art form, not just a hobby. Probably my favorite game ever. Plus it had a dude with a gun for a hand. Sweet!)

2. Chrono Cross

If you didn't play Chrono Trigger, then you missed out. If you didn't play Chrono Cross, then I will cut you. 45 possible playable characters? Multiple endings? New game +? Are you serious? This game kicked so much butt I didn't know what to do with myself. As a sequel, I thought it was going more down the Final Fantasy road in that it didn't really have much to do with Chrono Trigger, but -- well, not to spoil anything, but it totally does. And it is awesome. (I did not play this game, but I watched my roommate play it a lot. I would like to get to this game in my lifetime. I anticipate having lots of free time when my kids go to college....)

3. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

This was the first Castlevania game I really played, mostly because I sucked at all other previous versions. It opens by giving you a taste of Alucard's best equipment and abilities, and then Death pulls a totally jerk move and steals your powers. So not cool. You basically spend the game exploring this gigantic castle and building up equipment and abilities, and if you can get past the side-scrolling 2D style, it's a worthy investment. It even has multiple endings! PS, here's a protip that took me 22 years to figure out: ALUCARD IS DRACLUA BACKWARDS. (I played Castlevania was really hard! The last Castlevania game I ever played.....)

4: Metal Gear Solid

Would you rather sneak around on your belly and hide in boxes than take on a room full of terrorists? Then this game is for you. It's pretty much the first and only series of "stealth action" video games I've ever played, but even if there were more, it would still probably be the best. It introduced voice acting in video games to me, and although Mei Ling's voice made me want to go on a shooting spree more than once, it was still great. The protagonist Snake is still popular enough to be included in games like Super Smash Bros., which is a freaking Nintendo game. Yeah, it's that good. (Note: Castlevania also had voice acting, but I didn't play that until I was 20 or so. Also, it sucked. The words "HAVE AT YOU!" were actually said.)(My note: I suck at stealth games. I am more of a "guns blazin'" gamer. I would make a terrible soldier in real life.)

5: Tekken 3

I'm not gonna lie: I call this the Street Fighter of the Playstation. Is it as good as Street Fighter II? Debatable. Is it still really freaking good? Yes. Completely worthy of having friends over to have epic tournaments. It's still a fan favorite online, too -- I believe you can download an emulator and battle with like, kids in Tokyo, if you're feeling particularly like getting your butt kicked. Definitely the best fighter game on the system. (How did I never play this game? Oh yeah, I sucked at fighter games and always conveniently convinced friends to play NFL 2k1 instead.)

6. Final Fantasy VIII

A lot of people take issue with the junction system in this, but you know what? Those people probably didn't read the tutorial, because it wasn't really that hard. Junctioning systems aside, this game tried to live up to FF7 in plot twists, and possibly went a little overboard. Time-traveling sorceresses and endless paradoxes? Eesh. Luckily, it made up for it with a love story that didn't end tragically in death, and also a gun-toting redhead in a cowboy hat. Other highlights include the Ragnarok, one of my favorite airships of all time, going into freakin' space, and traveling back in time to play as your dad. Yeah, you read that right. It was cool. (I am ashamed I didn't play this one either. Again, when you don't own the system in college, its hard to convince your buddies to let you play a 40 hour RPG on their system)

7. Final Fantasy IX

This game was basically a big bundle of references and tips of the hat to all its predecessors, but it still managed to keep its own plot interesting without being trite. I still take issue with the fact that the main character's limit break turns him pink and naked, but no game is perfect, I suppose. Because this game was a big homage to all the others, it had all the stuff I enjoyed: going to the moon, performing in a play/opera, and an older brother who wears a thong. ...Wait. Not that last one. That was still weird. (I liked this game, although the big drama moment was a haircut. For the record I would not and should not ever wear a thong)

8. Resident Evil 2

Worst voice acting of all time? Yes. First game that legitimately scared the crap out of me? Yes. This game had me so scared of zombies that I had to ask my friend to stand outside the door while I went to the bathroom after the first time I played it. It offered you a choice between two characters, Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield, and also gave you the chance to play the same scenario from the other character's point of view after you completed it. Lickers still scare the crap out of me. (I have also never played a survival/horror game. Honestly, I blame it on all the Mario Kart, Mario Golf, Perfect Dark, Madden and NCAA Football I have played in my life. I wished I hadn't played so much sports.)

9. Tomb Raider

Girls enjoyed having a female main character to kick butt with. Boys enjoyed the view. Duel-pistol wielding Lara Croft was pretty but deadly, and it was awesome to watch her backflip her way through a dungeon while shooting bears. Overall, the game had a good balance of general butt-kicking vs puzzles and stealth. Oddly enough, one of the things I enjoyed most was the various ways in which Lara could die. Falling, drowning, electrocution -- the whole game was a deathtrap. And I liked it. (....I saw the movie? Sounds like I would have liked this game, but I feared the repercussions of the "Lara factor" from both girls and guys alike.)

10. Dance Dance Revolution: Konamix

You know the crazy people on the DDR machines at the bowling alley and movie theatres? Yeah, there was a home version, too. The DDR mat was flimsy and I frequently had to adjust mid-song, but I still enjoyed it. DDR continues to be a unique experience that only jerkwads like Dave and Busters try to recreate. Also the only game I know to measure difficulty in feet. Also good for exercise! (I like this game, even though I am below average at it. It got gamers to say "Tonight, I just wanna dance!")

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Golden Compass review.

After thinking about my friend Robert's resolution to read 2 books a month, I noticed that I think I read 2-3 books a month. That's more than the movies and video games I go through combined. Although that's a little sad, it is parenthood. So...against every fiber in my soul that tells me this sounds like school...I am writing book reviews. It doesn't matter how old they are, I just like to share opinions.

The Golden Compass

I was drawn to this book mostly because the Catholic Church has issues with it, and I like to see for myself how bad it really is. For example, I rather enjoyed The Da Vinci Code because I felt that it was totally fiction, yet a good mystery. But I am glad I read it because now I have a good reference for all those who doubted their whole experience of faith because of it.

The Golden Compass received a similar warning, and personally I agree to an extent. The first book of His Dark Materials challenges the idea of soul, destiny and reason in a way that is meant to dispute Church teachings. I should note that although I think everyone who reads this blog already knows it, I come to this topic as a man of Catholic faith and therefore am biased in favor of the Church.

So I read the book with one thought in mind: how damaging could one book be? After only reading one book of three I can say that I believe the author Philip Pullman's goal is to attack the Church and therefore could be damaging depending on how it all ends. (This review is meant for those who have either already read or don't plan on reading this book.)

The story begins before it begins with a quote from Paradise Lost considered to be one of the finest piece of literature in the English language. A book that I surprisingly remember from College! Paradise Lost re-tells the tale from a different perspective of the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden giving us a more detailed look into the interactions of God, Adam, Eve, and especially Satan. The themes of reason, knowledge, destiny and sin are certainly shared by each story.

The Golden Compass takes place in Europe, but not our Europe. More like an alternate universe how things could have turned out with some big differences. One such is the massive "unnamed" religion called The Magisterium who control pretty much everything and persecutes scientists. Listen, sure the Church made some mistakes in the field of science. Sorry. Has a few hundred years healed any wounds?

The biggest difference are Daemons. Daemons are a personal companion each human has. These daemons take the form of an animal and share a unique connection straight down to shared emotions. You can tell what kind of a person is if their daemon is a dog, weasel or even a snake. The daemon represents the soul. While I'm sure the Church objects to it, I don't really mind. I think people need to recognize what affects their souls a little more, and the presence of daemons sort of does that.

Then there is this mysterious Dust. (SPOILERS) Dust is likened to a proton or electron, but nobody knows what it does. What is known is that Dust is attracted to adults, yet does not settle on children until adolescence. Therefore, the Magisterium deduces that this Dust represents original sin and the loss of innocence and must be eliminated. Leading members of the Magisterium try to halt "puberty" by splitting children from their daemon. Essentially stating that the Church will do outrageous acts to prevent sin, even hurting children.

A third part of the story revolves around destiny and knowledge. It is clear to us and all characters that the little girl protagonist Lyra has a special and profound destiny....but we don't know what that is. Except that it is special and profound. But there is also this notion that there is power in knowledge...not the power we were taught in school. There is power in information that can be learned so great that the Magisterium will crush you from obtaining it. To the point that at the end of the book Lyra decides to go forth on her journey with the thought "if the everybody thinks it is bad, maybe it is really good!"

To recap: The Magisterium is controlling knowledge to support its theories to the point it will make unnatural sacrifices to obtain it. The fact that this Dust (ie sin) is deemed bad means it is probably good. And your soul is no more than a furry little companion on your journey. It is no wonder the Church opposes this book.

I am of the opinion that while the story is captivating, it is the attitude of the book that disturbs me. The way that knowledge is glorified and the soul and faith is minimilized really doesn't sit right with me. I plan on finishing the series, but right now my assessment is The Golden Compass is a one-sided story of how many Atheist view the Church and wisdom.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Nintendo 64: Top 10 Games

If the SNES defined my dorm days of college, the N64 defined those college days (and beyond) after the dorms. This system had amazing solo-games and equally awesome multi-player games. Also, the N64 features the best games for many franchises (Mario, Zelda, Mario Kart) although the Wii might change all that. Still, the N64 was a great system that surpassed both predecessors and those that followed.

1: Mario 64

I vividly remember the first time I played this game. It changed gaming for me. The 3D worlds you explored were so vast, varying and just fun to hop around. Oh, and the play control of Mario is possibly the best of any game I've ever played. I really felt I was in control of Mario and could make him jump in ways even I didn't think possible. Add on the crazy puzzles of each world and you have a winner. I beat this game, and collected tons of star, although that fire world still intimidates me.

2. Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Considered by most the best game on the N64, maybe ever. I consider it of the highest quality, I just enjoyed Mario 64 more. This game made adventuring easy and battling fun. It took it up a notch so to speak. It is hard to find any faults in this game. I guess my problem is I never got past the Shadow Temple. Not because it was game got erased while I was in the Temple. Twice. I have never gotten the nerve to go back either. My loss.

3. Perfect Dark

This is the best multi-player game ever, period. (and I will punch you in the teeth if you start talking about GoldenEye) First, this game was a top notch First Person Shooter, much like 007. But the Co-op function was amazing, and it really helped having your buddies play with you (even if you shot your friend and the President with the sniper in the dark.....) Next, the multi-player had the absolute most options ever seen, and it hasn't been outdone since. You want to play every man for themself? Check. How about 2 players versus 20 Sims just to see who can mow the most sims down? Check. Then there were the challenges!!! I get excited thinking about how awesome it was to develop a strategy, assign roles and complete each challenge to various difficulties! Why oh why hasn't there been another game even close to these options???

4. Mario Kart 64
Dominant play control and great multi-player options made this a winner. You just never got tired of playing this game with friends. It also marked the advent of most of the items in the game you have seen in the Cube, DS and Wii versions. Classic.

5. GoldenEye: 007
Probably the most famous FPS this side of Halo. It was revolutionary for a home console to play 4 of your friends in such epic combats. The only place you would ever hear the phrase: "Stop shooting me, I don't have a weapon!" "Well, then don't slap me in the neck!"

6. Mario Golf
The best golf game if you just want to have fun. I have a special place for this game in my heart because I became dominant at this game. I was a superb putter and rarely ever missed inside of 30 feet. I lost maybe a handful of matches, so of course I love this game!

7. Zelda: Majora's Mask
This game gets tons of points for just being different. The premise of the game was that the moon was going to crash into the Earth and Link had 3 days to save it. If by the 3rd day you couldn't get it done, you just put on your mask and start again at day one. Each time you would learn a little more and figure out what to do next. A little bit like the movie Groundhog's Day, really.

8. Star Fox 64
A great space shooter, this took the game play of Star Fox and the graphics of the 64 and made such a great game. Add on the multi-player dog fight and this game had a lot to offer.

9. Mario Tennis
Strangely, my favorite tennis game of all-time. Great gameplay allowed most anyone to pick up and play. I believe I am undefeated in singles play still to this day.

10. Pokemon Snap
Again, props for creativity. In this game you were placed on a track and given the challenge of taking the best pictures of the passing Pokemon while you threw crap at them to make them do crazy stuff. It had great charm, and getting that perfect picture was so rewarding. Plus....come on, Pokemon are just fun, especially when they say their names. Bulbusaur. Psy....Psy.....geodude.

Lacking entries: Sports
If the N64 had a fault, it was the lack of quality for the sports games. I don't know if it was the new joystick or what but developers just couldn't make a sports game worth playing, leading most gamers to the PS1 for sports games. (and RPG's)

Again, please comment about the games I missed or just don't like as much as you! (Notable games I just didn't play include Smash Bros and Conker: Bad Fur Day.)

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Spirit in St. Louis

What a time to be a St. Louis sports fan. We've been through some tough times recently. The Rams went from the Greatest Show to "now selecting with the Number 2 pick in the Draft" territory. The Blues got screwed during the strike and haven't seen the playoffs since. The Cardinals have been solid, but aren't the dominating team they were for most of the decade. But things are looking up....way up for all of St. Louis sports.

St. Louis Cardinals: It has been only 2 seasons since we won it all, but it hasn't been all that great since. Although we won more games last season than in '06, watching the Cubs (briefly) in Oct. still hurts. But hope isn't just at the horizon, it's at the front door. Young pitching (Motte) and young hitting (Rasmus) is showing that we are in for a long term overhaul, not just patching up with free agents. And our minor leagues look great too (This Wallace guy sounds like a power hitting 3B...can't wait to see him.) If the kids learn on the job we could win this year. I think it will come down to who gets more injuries between the Cubs and Cards. But whether it is '09 or '10, Cardinal baseball will yet again be a joy to watch.

As for my predictions, I have the Yankees, Red Sox, Indians and Angels in the AL. The Phillies, Cubs, Dodgers and Mets in the NL. Give me the Red Sox over the Dodgers in the series. I know it isn't original, but it's not my fault the Sox are solid. As for the Cards, I will say a second place finish with 89 wins. 94 wins if Carp gets 30 starts and Motte is the real deal.

The St. Louis Blues: It is true. I have yet to recover from the strike. The Blues had made the playoffs every year of my life before the strike. We were a shell of ourselves when the NHL restarted, and I am still bitter. However, I hear about the Blues everyday on the radio. About the work ethic and smart drafting. Now, without our best defensemen the Blues are almost in the playoffs against all odds. Frankly, the Blues have been playing like it is the playoffs for the last month. So even though they might not make it, they have shown great integrity for a young team. A young team that will make some noise next season.

The St. Louis Rams: How craptastic was it to watch the Rams last year? I am a solid fan, and even I didn't bother to watch most games on TiVo. But then we promote Billy Devaney to GM and hire Steve Spagnuolo, and anything is possible. Think about it, our blundering Rams hired the number 1 head coach prospect. Huge. He then hires staff based on talent, not friendship. Huge. He then gathers players based on heart, not name. Huge. My only regret is we cut Holt and Pace. But I think that regret will be short lived. We will win 5-7 games this year, and compete for years to come. This will be a dynasty for the Rams. We may not win Superbowls, but we will make playoffs.

St. Louis Athletica: So the WPS started up this month with the St. Louis Athletica being an inaugural team in the 7 team league. While it is hard to judge one expansion team, let alone 7, I am excited for the Athletica. We have the best keeper in the world in Hope Solo, a world class defender in Lori Chalupny and 2 up and coming strikers. And then some Brazilians including the Brazilian coach. I expect the Athlectica to make the playoffs and truthfully they should be in the finals.

MLS? Yeah, I could tell a sad story about how St. Louis has been passed up for 4 expansion spots now since we passed a stadium plan in Collinsville. But here is why I am still hopeful: They are looking at using Soccer Park for the soccer stadium plan. This would be awesome, because most soccer fans think of 2 places in St. Louis to watch soccer: SLU and Soccer Park. If this happens we should get an expansion team for 2012. But even beyond that, St. Louis is coming up as a possible relocation destination for some troubled MLS squads, including the 4 time champs DC United. While I would hate to get a relocated team, it would be super awesome to watch the quality of DC United for years to come. It could happen!